Monthly Photo Project: A Year in Kosovo

This last year, I did a monthly photo project where each month, I posted a photo that captured the spirit of that month. While I didn’t love this project (I’ve seen it done better on other blogs), 2017 is the only full calendar year I will be living in Kosovo. Here is the year in photos. (Note: I hadn’t previously published December’s photo. It is here at the end.)

january-kosovo
January
february-landscape-pristina-kosovo
February
Mosque in Peja Kosovo
March
Kosovo Mountains
April
Mirusha Kosovo
May
yard kosovo
June
July landscape
July
Peja Kosovo
August
chickens in kosovo
September
October landscape
October
Landscape photo November
November
December in Kosovo.JPG
December

 

Friday Gratitude: Here Comes the Snow, Do-En-Do-Do

Sunday morning, I opened my blinds and was shocked to see snow! I was so surprised I stood there for a moment, taking in the scene. We’d had pouring rain the few days previous, so I was not expecting snow. How cozy, I thought, looking out at the blanketed yard. Then I thought to myself, “I wonder how long it’ll be until I get sick of it.” Haha! I’d guess January. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Those living in the mountains of Kosovo will probably turn their noses up at me. The mountain villages had snow back in like, October. But I live in a valley (thank God), so this was the first snow I’d seen for the winter!

<– I made a few small changes to the blog. Now when you click on “my photography portfolio” or “my videos on Vimeo” you will be taken directly to those sites.

Media Consumption this week:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, so I was curious to read one of his novels. I read The Remains of the Day in one day. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a story about a stuffy English butler, but I thought the main character was sympathetic and I felt like I at least partially understood the choices he made in life. (Also, I was interested to learn Ishiguro wrote the book in just four weeks.)
  • I saw Murder on the Orient Express. While I didn’t think the mystery was that interesting, this was the most aesthetically-pleasing movie I have ever seen. 

scary nails made with paper
The latest fad at my school …
My host cousin brought home a letter puzzle her English teacher had given her. Supposedly, one could make 111 words with the letters in the puzzle. We worked together and came up with 115 words. HA!

***

I’ve mentioned this before: there has been a huge spike in traffic to this blog from France. I’d love to hear from some of my French readers to learn what makes you so interested in Kosovo. If you’re game, please shoot me an email via the contact form. Merci!

My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! ๐Ÿ™‚

pets 2
Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

IMG_6654
DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. ๐Ÿ™‚

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees ๐Ÿ”ฅ

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo
The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. ๐Ÿ™‚

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag
Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

kale skopje 4
Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

door cathedral of saint mother teresa
Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

park gothenburg sweden 1
Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

IMG_7529
April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for reading.

My 5-Day Food Diary

Last week, I decided to keep a 5-day food diary to give you an idea of what it is like to live and eat in Kosovo.

(Note: At times, I am posting old photos or photos from other sites. I didn’t want to weird out my host mother by taking pictures of the meals she cooked.)

Also, I didn’t include snacks. I eat chocolate. A lot of it.

Monday

Breakfast: banana + a cup of coffee

Lunch: 2 speca (peppers), two small tomatoes with salt, a big hunk of homemade cheese, several glasses of milk

Dinner: A bowl of pasule (traditional bean stew here in Kosovo) with white bread and one glass of milk

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pasule (Photo Credit: Albania Adventure)

Tuesday

Breakfast: banana +ย  a cup of coffee

Lunch: Two pieces of reheated dough filled with egg (leftover from Sunday breakfast) and two glasses of milk

Dinner: Two fried eggs, a hunk of homemade cheese, and several glasses of milk

Kosovo food 2
Lunch: Reheated dough and egg

Wednesday

Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios + a cup of coffee

Lunch: one speca (pepper), one bowl of leftover pasule, 2 glasses of milk

Dinner: one bowl of leftover pasule, 1 glass of milk

Thursday

Breakfast: a cup of dry Cheerios +ย  a cup of coffee

Lunch: I was in Pristina to work, which means I got to have a treat! I had a falafel sandwich from one of my favorite restaurants, Babaganoush. HEAVEN.

Dinner: Flia (traditional Kosovo food that’s just layers of dough cooked over an open flame)

Babaganoush Pristina Kosovo
Lunch at Babaganough. YUM!

#food #Kosovo #flia

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

Friday

Breakfast:ย a cup of dry Cheerios +ย  a cup of coffee

Lunch: 1-1/2 (cold) fried eggs (ugh, couldn’t finish them), ยฝ of a tomato with salt, a piece of cheese, a piece of leftover flia, and a glass of milk

Dinner: penne pasta mixed with cheese and a glass of milk

Kosovo food 1
Lunch

Eating a healthy diet is something with which I struggle in Kosovo. I live on a mini-farm. All the produce and meat I eat is organic, so you think it would be healthy, right? Some problems are:

  • Kosovars consume a HUGE amount of white bread.
  • Food is prepared with a lot of oil. If I were going to scramble an egg at home, for example, I would use a tablespoon of olive oil. When my host mother makes eggs, she dumps about 1/3 of the bottle into the pan. (I am not exaggerating.)
  • Americans eat a lot of sugar, yours truly included. But the amount of sugar Iโ€™ve seen Kosovars consume is staggering. If you can out-sugar an American, you are eating way too much sugar.
  • I am not vegetarian, but I try to avoid meat as much as I can in Kosovo. I don’t like the way it is prepared. It manages to be stringy, overcooked, and greasy all at the same time.
  • I think of a “meal” as being protein + starch + vegetable, but I don’t consistently get all three.

I hate having so little control over what I eat and when I eat. But cooking for myself would be difficult because:

  • There is no grocery store in my village.
  • Meals are the only time I really spend with my host family.
  • I think my host mother would be offended if I stopped eating her food.
  • I am not allowed to use the electric stove (too expensive), the gas stove is broken, and I don’t know how to cook on a wood stove.

Grocery shopping and cooking have always been two chores I’ve hated. Now, however, I am looking forward to that day in the future when I finally live alone again (!!!) and can prepare a meal for myself. I’m gonna put Jose Gonzalez on the stereo, pour myself a glass of white wine, and weep for joy as I cook.

A Boring Adventure

I once heard Peace Corps described as “a boring adventure.” I can’t think of a more apt description. That’s exactly what it’s like.

When I was preparing to leave for the Peace Corps, I was thinking of how many tedious things have to happen before embarking on any adventure. If you’re an adult ensconced in a real, adult life, there is a lot that must be undone if you choose to leave that life.

I had to quit my twos jobs, pack and move my belongings, cancel my utilities, find someone to adopt my chinchillas, and move my cat into my parents’ house.

And there was the paperwork. So much paperwork. Medical and legal clearance and a slew of other stuff to prepare and track and submit.

Now that I am serving in the Peace Corps, I have to submit a quarterly report about my activities.ย It’s not like Peace Corps turned us loose in Kosovo and said: “Have fun in Kosovo! See you in two years!”

I have no idea what happens to this report once staff reads it … I don’t know if it gets filed away somewhere in D.C. I’ve had to submit so much paperwork at this point (like all of my medical records) that it is a little scary.

[When my group first arrived in Kosovo, we were given (surprise!) more paperwork to complete. One form was about our recent medical history. They actually asked the question, “How many sexual partners have you had in the last year?” I was temped to be a jerk and write, “SIX HUNDRED.” (Who in their right mind would answer that question?) But then I realized I probably didn’t want the U.S. government to be in possession of a document that says I slept with six hundred people in a year. (Not true, btw.) Instead I wrote, “Declined to answer.”]

So, yeah, the government has all kinds of info on me. And I don’t know who has access to it or what happens to it. This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I’ve decided to share some of my answers from my recent report on this blog. Because … it’s my report, and why not?

Below is a slightly edited version. As I’ve said, I try to be respectful of others’ privacy, so I have removed some of what I wrote about my home life and school.

How could cross-cultural and language training be improved to support effective cultural integration?

I do not think training needs to be improved. My issues with cultural integration center around being a woman in a small village, and having limited opportunities to interact with local people. Spending time in the few cafes in my village is not an option, since it is not culturally appropriate for women to visit cafes alone. I sometimes shop at the small market or the bakery, and interact with local people working there. However, my interactions there are limited as well: “Miredita.” “Sa kushton?” etc. Therefore, most of my interactions take place in my host family or at my school.

What challenges have you faced in your project or other areas of your Peace Corps experience?

Living with a host family has by far been the most challenging part of my service. I feel as though I walked into a situation where expectations of who I was and what our relationship would be were already set. I continually have to set boundaries with my host mother, who very much expected us to have a mother-daughter relationship. She was not prepared to live with an independent, now- 36-year-old American woman.

What lessons have you learned about yourself, your community, or your project?

I have learned that, “Wherever you go, there you are.” My living circumstances have changed, and yet I am still the same person I have always been, with the same interests and habits I had in the United States. Living in Kosovo has prompted me to consider my own unique skills and gifts, and think of how best to use them in this context. I am never going to be the Most Outgoing Volunteer, or the Best at Language. And yet, that does not mean I cannot use what I have to be of use to my community. I am good at listening, I am good at observing the needs of my students, and I am creative, just to give a few examples. I bring all of these skills with me when I enter my classroom.

Finish this sentence: One thing I wish Americans knew about my country of service is …

that appearances can be deceiving. Despite the fact that Pristina, for example, appears very modern and “Western” in many ways, life there is very different from life in a small village. Poverty rates are high where I live, and education and health care systems are poor.

How successful has your integration with your host family been?

I am unsure how to answer this question, to be honest. I would say I have a good relationship with my host family, in that we generally get along. I eat all of my meals with them, and will sometimes go with them to visit neighbors or other relatives. I am included in family events, like engagement parties, etc. However, as I mentioned previously, my relationship with my host mother is my biggest source of stress.

My relationships with my host father and host brother are much more easy going. Both of them are quiet people, as am I, and so we don’t actually spend a lot of time talking with one another. Meals are very quiet in my household. I also try to give my host father and brother a good deal of space. My host father is not old enough to be my real father (he is 51; I am 36), and I am aware of how inappropriate it would look if he and I were close. I feel the same way about my host brother (age 21). I want to state that I feel safe in my house. My decision to give the men in my household a wide berth has more to do with awareness of perception and cultural expectations than anything else.

What opportunities have you had to build relationships outside of your host family?

Regarding my actual community of [redacted], I have had very little opportunity to interact with locals. My village is small, and again, the culture dictates that I spend my non-working time at home. I have more professional contacts in the larger, nearby village of [redacted], thanks to my site mate and her counterpart. I have also met a good number of professional contacts who live in Pristina.

***

So, there you have it — an honest look at my life in Kosovo so far.

Pit Stop at Tartine, Pristina

Cafes are a big part of life here in Kosovo. (I’d love to see a report on the number of cafes per capita … there’s probably like one cafe for every five people in Kosovo. [I am making that up/exaggerating. But only a little.])

outside Tartine

Tartine is a popular breakfast place among the Peace Corps volunteers. Tartine primarily serves quiche, smoothies, and coffee.

During a low point this last winter, I remember lying in bed and scrolling through Google images of “fruit smoothies,” fantasizing about colorful, healthy drinks and feeling sorry for myself. (Pathetic.) A few weeks later, a friend introduced me to Tartine. And I got a smoothie! I also got a quiche and some coffee. ๐Ÿ™‚

breakfast quiche tartine pristina kosovo

Although cafes are a big part of the Kosovar culture, in the smaller villages (like mine), they are frequented almost exclusively by men. I’ve heard that Tartine is owned by a woman. While I don’t know if this is true, every time I have been to Tartine I have only seen women working.

inside Tartine
Inside Tartine
vignette tartine pristina kosovo
Cute decor
wall decor tartine
A wall hanging … I’ll admit, I think this is weird.

If you’d like to read about other places I frequent in Kosovo, check out this post about Sach Cafe, and the (VERY SADLY!) now-closed Sweet Bean.